With a staggering 175 museums, Berlin is a treasure trove for cultured travellers. Whilst cranes clutter the skyline and the city changes almost beyond recognition, it’s still steeped in a monumental history, with a love of the archaic and aesthetic. It’s a city that’s not afraid to look to its own past to shed light on its future.
Covering everything from computer games to the darkly absurd Stasi surveillance methods, there truly is a Berlin museum for everyone. If you’re used to the free museums in London, the entry fees can seem a little steep. But with a bit of planning you can still get your culture fix on a backpacker’s budget: there are several free museums in Berlin, plus if you plan to visit more than one address on this list, then a Berlin museum pass can save you loads of money. Try the 24-hour Berlin Museum Island Pass (which gives you access to the 5 of the best museums in Berlin for €18, instead of €10-12 each) or the Welcome Card (which gives you free and reduced entry to loads of museums and other attractions, plus unlimited public transport – from €19.90).
So which Berlin museums should you make a beeline for? Here’s our pick of the best.
1. New Museum
Built in the 19th century by one of Berlin’s most famous and prolific architects, Friedrich August Stüler, the New Museum (“Neues Museum”) was all but destroyed during WW2. It remained a bombed out ruin for years under GDR rule, before being restored and reopened by British architect David Chipperfield in 1999. The new building, made from recycled bricks and retaining some original elements, is an exquisite mix of old and new, or in Chipperfield’s words: “The contemporary reflects the lost, but without imitating it.”
Inside the stunning building you’ll find a vast collection of Egyptian art and classical antiquities, plus one of the city’s most famous artefacts: the bust of Nefertiti. Created in 1345 B.C, it’s one of the most copied pieces of Egyptian art ever and truly is a thing of beauty.
2. Berlin Wall Memorial
If you really want to understand the Berlin Wall, skip the crowds at the East Side Gallery and Checkpoint Charlie and head to this moving and totally free museum just north of the centre. The museum explains how and why the wall came about, with footage of its construction. A viewing platform allows you to see a section of the wall as it was, complete with death strip and watchtowers, whilst plaques at ground level mark the many escape tunnels dug by desperate East Germans, with information about how many people died or escaped there.
This is one of the most moving museums in Berlin, and really helps those who didn’t experience the horror first hand understand the impact of the Berlin Wall on ordinary people’s lives.
Address: Bernauer Straße 111, Prenzlauer Berg
3. Pergamon Museum
This is one of Germany’s most visited museums, and with good reason. It houses extraordinary reconstructions of archaeological excavations including the Pergamon Altar, the Market Gate of Miletus, the Mshatta Facade and the Ishtar Gate and Processional Way from Babylon. If you fancy gazing in awe at something big and decadent, this is the place to do it.
4. Stasi Museum
📷 Stasi Museum / ASTAK e.V, / John Steer
Located in the former Stasi HQ, this museum is a must for fans of the Oscar-winning classic The Lives Of Others, which was shot here. Walking around the huge, austere offices and boardrooms, you’ll get a chilling insight into life in East Berlin under Socialist rule. Keep an eye out for the primitive covert surveillance devices, featuring cameras clumsily hidden in watering cans, ties and behind buttons. What makes a visit to this Berlin museum so memorable, besides the aesthetics, is the unsettling mix of eeriness and absurdity.
Address: Ruschestraße 103, Haus 1, Lichtenberg 10365
5. Jewish Museum Berlin
Opened in 2001, in an old baroque building re-imagined by world-famous architect Daniel Libeskind, this is a hugely important and popular Berlin museum. The permanent exhibition focuses on Jewish life in Germany through history, with artworks, texts, and plenty of interactive elements. For a few Euros you can even purchase a piece of art by a talented Berlin-based Jewish artist from a vending machine. Of course, the museum also explores the devastating period for Jews in Berlin leading up to and during WW2. Viewed alongside the other exhibits, the all-too-familiar facts of the holocaust are somehow all the more disturbing.
Address: Lindenstraße 9-14, Kreuzberg 10969
6. Natural History Museum
When is a museum more than a museum? Well, when that museum is also a research facility, dedicated to the study of life and planet Earth, meaning a constantly evolving collection as new and important discoveries are made. The collection consists of over 30 million items and counting – more are being added as you read this – covering zoology, palaeontology, geology and mineralogy. That means there are bugs and rocks and snails and lizards and fossils and fishes, birds, mammals, snakes, frogs, plants, meteorites, you name it…
Address: Invalidenstraße 43, Mitte 10115
7. Museum Berggruen
📷 Staatliche Museen zu Berlin / hc-krass.de
Don’t be put off by its location on the western outskirts of the city; this is one of the best museums in Berlin and home to some seriously impressive works from the likes of Giacometti, Picasso, Klee and Matisse. Although it doesn’t look it on the map, this Berlin modern art museum, located next door to Charlottenburg Palace, is actually surprisingly easy to reach with a fast S-Bahn train from Alexanderplatz in the centre taking around 30 minutes.
Address Schloßstraße 1, Charlottenburg 14059
8. Topography of Terror
📷 Stefan Müller / Stiftung Topographie des Terrors
This free Berlin museum focuses on the terrible crimes that Hitler’s SS committed throughout Europe, with photographs and texts, as well as audio and film recordings. Located on the site of its former headquarters, the open-air exhibition is a shocking, sobering experience, and does what any good museum should do: it makes you reflect on what it is to be alive.
Address: Niederkirchnerstraße 8, Kreuzberg 10963
9. Old National Gallery
Dreamed up by King Friedrich Wilhelm IV, who imagined a “sanctuary for art and science”, the museum is a temple-like building home to an extraordinary art collection, including Romantic and Impressionist masterpieces, works by Manet, Monet, Cezanne, Schinkel, and a world-class collection of paintings by German Realist Adolph Menzel. The seed of the Old National Gallery (“Alte Nationalgalerie”) dates back to a gift from a banker in the 19th century, putting pay to the common notion that all bankers are wicked and greedy individuals (at least, they didn’t used to be!).
10. Bode Museum
This exquisitely designed museum, extensively renovated and reopened in 2006, mainly exhibits sculptures, including masterpieces such as Donatello’s ‘Pazzi Madonna’ and Antonio Canova’s ‘Dancer’, the iconic ‘Tarquinius und Lucretia’ by Petro Tacca, as well as an important German sculpture by Tilman Riemenschneider and Ignaz Günther. There’s also an impressive collection of Byzantine art ranging from the 3rd to the 15th century, including carvings, mosaics and religious objects. As you walk around the museum among the relics and statues, you’ll start to feel a wonderful calm descend.
11. DDR Museum
📷 DDR Museum, Berlin 2017
Despite the potentially dour subject matter, the DDR Museum paints a fascinating and surprisingly fun and colourful illustration of life in East Berlin before the wall came down. This is partly thanks to its interactive nature: ‘Everything is waiting to be touched or felt’ here. You can have a poke around the reconstruction of an East German apartment, gaudy wallpaper and all; find out what it was like to sit in an interrogation room; listen to examples of East German pop music; and even explore the cheeky exhibition detailing the Communist fascination with nudity. The museum is noisy, lively, and altogether quite unexpected. Don’t forget to try a bottle of East German-style lemony cola (named “Vita Cola”) at the cafe afterwards. Very refreshing indeed.
12. Käthe Kollwitz Museum
Dedicated to one of Germany’s most influential female artists, the Käthe Kollwitz Museum houses the biggest collection of timeless drawings, etchings and sculptures. Housed in a grand residential building in West Berlin, these timeless works depict war, poverty, suffering, and love. There is a deep sense of humanity in every work, and despite the often bleak subject matter, you will leave feeling reborn.
Address: Fasanenstraβe 24, Charlottenburg 10719
Admission: €7 (under 18s free, remember your ID!)
13. Old Museum
Housed in an iconic Neoclassical building that was completed in 1830, the Old Museum (“Altes Museum”) contains the city’s collection of classical antiquities, including works from ancient Greece and the Roman Empire, and one of the largest collections of Etruscan art outside of Italy. Prepare to be dazzled by bronzes, urns, statues, ceramics, carved ivory, precious stones, vases and cultural artefacts.
14. Deutsche Kinemathek
📷 Hans Scherhaufer / Deutsche Kinemathek
📷 Marian Stefanowski / Deutsche Kinemathek
Berlin’s role in the history of cinema cannot be understated: the film-making capital of Germany, the city pioneered the horror film (with iconic films such as Nosferatu and The Cabinet of Dr Caligari), science fiction (with Metropolis), and was a massive influence on American cinema, with the Hollywood melodrama and crime genres of the 1950s having their genesis in German film. This rich history can be explored at the Kinemathek on Potsdamerplatz, a very modern film museum that delves back into the origin of the artform, and begins with a marvellously immersive walk through a futuristic hall of mirrors.
Address: Potsdamer Straße 2, Mitte 10785
Admission: €7 (free Thursdays 4-8pm)
15. The Hohenschoenhausen (Stasi Prison)
📷 Gedenkstätte Berlin-Hohenschönhausen/Gvoon
A fascinating and at times frightening museum, this former Stasi prison is a little way out of the city, and not much publicised, but well worth the visit. Machine gun towers, barbed wire, cells without windows, water torture facilities… this is not a place for the faint-hearted. But, combined with a visit to the Stasimuseum, it paints a necessary and grim picture of a notorious era in Berlin’s history. The guided tours are often led by former inmates of the prison, and are well worth doing.
Address: Genslerstraße 66, Alt-Hohenschönhausen 13055
16. Allied Museum
If you wanted to see the actual guard’s booth that was used at Checkpoint Charlie, don’t go to Friedrichstraße, but head to the Allied Museum in Zehlendorf. The museum looks at what life was like in the Western half of the divided city after the Second World War, when it was occupied by the Americans, British and French, right up to when the Allies withdrew in 1994. Located in a former US Army cinema, near what used to the be headquarters of the US Army in Berlin, the Allied Museum has a wealth of intriguing exhibits, including a segment of an American and British spy tunnel used to listen to Soviet communications, and a magnificent RAF Hastings plane used in the Cold War-era airlift, in response to the Soviet Union blocking supply routes to West Berlin.
Address: Clayallee 135, Zehlendorf 14195
17. Currywurst museum
📷 Deutsches Currywurst Museum Berlin
Okay, this one’s a little bit naff, but who can resist a novelty lifesize sausage? Not us. The museum is, of course, dedicated to Berlin’s iconic streetfood dish, which consists of diced sausage smothered in a curried sauce and served with chips. In the museum you’ll learn about how the dish was invented in the 1940s and what ingredients go into making this beloved snack, before tasting it for yourself whilst sitting on a sofa shaped like – you guessed it – a giant sausage.
Address: Schützenstrasse 20, Mitte 101117
18. Ramones Museum
Founded in 2005, this museum attract fans of the iconic, influential New York rock band from far and wide. It’s the only one of its kind and displays over 1000 original artefacts from The Ramones, spanning the band’s career from 1974 to 1996, and including posters, unpublished photos, signed memorabilia, stage clothing, instruments, handwritten letters, song lyrics, and unusual merchandise. Afterwards, you can invest in a cool Ramones T-shirt in the gift shop. Hey, ho, you should go…
Address: Oberbaumstraße 5, Kreuzberg 10997
19. Computer Games Museum
📷 Jörg Metzner / Computerspielmuseum
The museum opened in 2011 with over 300 exhibits that take you from the origins of the videogame (remember Pong?) right up to its astounding, ongoing development into virtual reality and beyond. This is a wonderful museum, and the best bit is, you can play computer games old and new, including arcade machines of Donkey Kong, Asteroids and Space Invaders. It’s not only an enjoyable nostalgia trip, but you’ll come out thinking “I have seen the future.”
Address: Karl-Marx-Allee 93a, Friedrichshain 10243
20. Märkisches Museum
📷 Stadtmuseum Berlin / christina Sieber
Located on the banks of the Spree, this is an exhibition of artefacts related to the culture and and history of the city, with a permanent exhibit, ‘Here is Berlin!’, where you can stroll through the streets and districts of Berlin and experience how Berlin has changed over the course of several centuries (and afterwards, of course, step outside and see what the city is like right now).
Address: Am Köllnischen Park 5, Mitte 10179
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